Some scenes from the robots-vs.-lawyers future

We recently welcomed Richard Susskind and others at the Berkman Center. Susskind joined us for a discussion in the morning about technical requirements for software needed for our Vermont digital corporations project. Susskind is known for his description of a near-future of law where the legal services industry is radically changed by the completion of many legal tasks by computers. (Actually that’s only perhaps half the picture. The rest involves the divvying up of legal tasks among various providers to those who can most efficiently complete them).

Here are some examples of this trend toward automation.

Seravia:
My Latin isn’t too hot, but I think that means something to the effect of “the way of the future.” This company, based in Beijing, claims to be “distilling the power of a world-class law firm into software available to anyone in the world.” So far they are just in startup phase and looking to hire engineers, software developers, business analysts and “legal analysts.” Interestingly, the word “lawyer” doesn’t figure into their hiring priorities, and none of the three principals listed mentions experience as a lawyer.
See:  www.seravia.com

A2J:
From the world of pro-bono comes A2J. The program was designed by a team at Chicago Kent School of Law and is meant to provide a user-facing interview experience. A2J was built for unrepresented (pro-se) litigants, so it is usually programmed with short, plain-language questions written at a modest reading level.
The answers to the questions become XML-tagged variables that can then be plugged into HotDocs. Once harvested, these XML snippets could have other uses as well, such as e-filing (once courts are ready). To make it easy to program, interviews are designed as flow charts of possible questions. The end user (client) never has to see these charts the designers use.
See: http://www.kentlaw.edu/cajt/A2JAuthor.ht…. You can walk through one of the interviews near the bottom of the page. The PDF executive summary of the program is also helpful.
(Disclosure: I am currently employed by the state of Vermont to build a series of A2J interviews for family law matters.)

One Click Organisations:
This British non-profit is designed to minimize the amount of time social entrepreneurs need to spend doing legal housekeeping. One Click Organisations offers a service whereby users will be asked a series of questions and then the group’s software will recommend the best institutional form for the group and also develop a constitution. The current version only supports unincorporated organizations, but later versions will include options for share corporations or partnerships.
In addition to setting up a decision-making structure, One Click Organisations will also establish a central internet location with registers of members and decisions made by the group. E-mail and text messages will be sent to active members notifying them of new members, proposals, decisions, or other developments.
See: http://www.circus-foundation.org/project…

– Brock Rutter

Brock Rutter is trained as a lawyer and is a research assistant to Prof. Oliver
Goodenough at the Berkman Center.  His interests include technology driven law practice,  coming changes to the legal profession, and evolving corporate and transactional law in the digital age.  In other endeavors, he is currently programming A2J interview modules to assist pro se litigants in Vermont.

2 Responses to “Some scenes from the robots-vs.-lawyers future”

  1. JG says:

    If I understand the propositions here, the first fields to be impacted will be institutions of law that people should be able to do themselves, but the legal code or emotional situation has made it necessary for lawyers as mediators to the law. I do not see the fear in this, nor do I see a sense of robots versus lawyers. The risk is when legislators and lawyers get together and unintentionally create new, even more complex laws that surreptitiously make the software difficult to manage. However, like piracy – as a form of civic rebellion – of any kind, the codes will merge and catch up with each other.

    These scenes of robots versus lawyers do leave one major question: accountability. Who will be responsible when the software fails to properly advise a client, who then depends upon it, and is hurt by it? Will someone who does have a license to practice law have to ultimately vouch for the software? Should the software itself have to be granted some form of legal license?

  2. I’m not sure how it fits in, but I was involved in http://www.livejustice.org , an initiative designed to help pro se litigants via:
    * live legal help from attorneys,
    * through a self-serve knowledgebase and
    * with a form assembly system (that I wrote).

    I’d be happy to discuss at some point. This was back in 2004, probably a bit ahead of its time.